Change through collaboration: How can we drive youth to shape the future?

Prakhar Bhartiya is no ordinary young man. At a time when youngsters are busy working hard towards secure careers, he was working towards a vision - to shape the way the next generation thinks, acts and behaves. And his answer? To help youth understand their critical role they play in society and groom them to become thought leaders.

As a child, Prakhar was deeply humbled by his social envrionment. 'My family came from a village and I was sent to the best school in Kanpur at that time. The school that I was studying in was just in front of a slum, and I used to constantly talk to the children there. Later, when I was in college, I noticed that little children around 8 to 9 years of age served us food in the canteen, and I found it really annoying. It was this that triggered something in me. I knew I wanted to do something about it', he recollects. In fact, this is exactly how Youth Alliance was born; not an organization with a set goal, but an initiative with a vision.

While in college, Prakhar realized that not many around him understood the idea. It was in his final year, as the President of the Student Union, that he garnered the support of many other students who were interested in working with him. In due course, however, several opted for a traditional career path during campus placements with major IT companies such as IBM and L&T on graduation. Alone, Prakhar concentrated on his interest in the social sector, and decided to work with the few volunteers whose support he enjoyed. One of the first pathbreaking attempts was to work with Janaagraha, a citizen participation organisation, where Youth Alliance volunteers spearheaded the popular 'Jaago re' voter rights campaign in the Northern states. This experience, if anything, was proof to Prakhar, that if something needed to be done, it can.

Coupled with his learning, and also the experience that he took away as a Teach for India Fellow, where he spent time as a volunteer teaching in a school at the heart of Mumbai's slums, proved invaluable. 'My classroom experience at TFI changed me as a person, it strengthened by belief in Gandhian philosophy. It was here that I realized that its important to 'practice what you preach'. It was a kind of experimental lab for me and helped me understand my inner self,' Prakhar says, 'Most, importantly, I understood that it's important to change from inside in order to bring change outside'

Of course, establishing Youth Alliance came with its own set of challenges. As a young entrepreneur, Prakhar had much to learn practically as he did not have formal exposure to the business world like his peers who had opted to gain work experience in corporate houses. But this didn’t deter him. Building a good team that would endure the intitial struggle was the first step. ‘The only mantra I followed to make my team was to give ownership to people around me and during this process, 20 people who joined us in the beginning reduced to 5 in 3 months and slowly they became an integral part of organization and played a crucial role in decision making.’ Resources were little too, and the young workforce had to find a way of making the best of what was available. ‘We struggled a lot in the beginning to find a place where we can have leadership forum and workshops for our team,’ he smiles, ‘It takes time but things work out. For now we have made our office at the place I live, so office and home both are same.’

Today, Youth Alliance has grown, and its number of volunteers are only increasing. Right from peaceful protests to campaigns, Youth Alliance volunteers take active part in the public sphere. To help his volunteers and Fellows gain better insight about the gravity of the situation, Prakhar ensures that these youngsters get a chance to live, experience and engage with people in villages and parts of India that remain largely underrepresented in the mainstream media. Two primary programs dominate the central idea of Youth Alliance - Lead the Change (a Delhi-based program) and Gramya Manthan (a National program). Lead the Change concentrates on various aspects of leadership, changemaking and social entreprenuership while Gramya Manthan resounds Prakhar's vision of 'work experience through exposure'. Participants are sent to villages and encouraged to do field work to experience problems first hand to understand the magnitude of what they are dealing with. 'One thing I believe is that when we experience something, we feel connected to it. What I'm trying to do is making people feel that experience by taking them to villages, taking them to places where work is happening,' he says.

When questioned about Youth Alliance to the next level, Prakhar beams. 'I plan to run Youth Alliance for around 5 more years and take it to around 10 new cities and then pass it on to someone else. The organization should spread like an idea and nurture young role models and social entrepreneurs. After this I will work with youth only but on a more rigorous way by setting up an institution which will run a Masters Degree program on 'Nation Building'. May be an 'Indian Institute of Democracy'?,' he grins. Perhaps, it is this visionary outlook that makes Prakhar stand out in a crowd - he's not only driven by desire, but an passion to fulfil that idea.

As told to Meera Vijayann